Starkey: Bill O'Brien's bad call
By Joe Starkey
Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Given all that has transpired at Penn State over the past seven months, this astonishing development escaped proper scrutiny: New football coach Bill O'Brien retained two of Joe Paterno's longtime assistants.
Let's try that again.
Bill O'Brien retained two of Joe Paterno's longtime assistants .
How did that happen?
If any freshly hired coach in the history of football needed to make a clean break from the standing regime, O'Brien was the one. He shouldn't have had a choice, but neither the Board of Trustees nor school president Rodney Erickson saw fit to make cleaning house a precondition of O'Brien's employment.
So even as the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal widened in scope and careened toward trial, O'Brien, head firmly planted in sand, thought it a swell idea to retain Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson Sr.
Vanderlinden, on staff since 2001, is the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Johnson, on staff since 1996, is the defensive line coach. More importantly, both are accomplished recruiters. Nobody had to tell O'Brien or his superiors that these men would give the program its best chance to keep some semblance of the 2012 class together.
Football games, after all, must be won, even if it is proved that a multi-level, institutional cover-up of serial child rape occurred.
The purpose here is not to demonize Johnson or Vanderlinden. Both have excellent reputations. It's possible that neither knew of or witnessed anything untoward regarding Sandusky.
But the unfortunate and undeniable truth is that anyone who worked for any significant period on Paterno's staff between 1994 and 2009 falls under the same cloud of suspicion, a cloud best framed in a few simple questions:
• What did you know and when?
• What did you see and when?
And, of course, the next logical question: If you knew something, do you, in the words of the late Paterno, wish you had done more? Sandusky, on trial for 52 counts of child sexual abuse involving 10 boys, maintained a presence around the football program for 12 years after leaving his defensive coordinator post in 1999.
Johnson and Vanderlinden already have seen one of their ex-colleagues (Mike McQueary) become a key witness in the Sandusky trial and another (Tom Bradley) become implicated as a witness.
Civil suits could be forthcoming. America's most-aggressive news outlets are digging like mad.
It's hard to believe that any longtime member of Paterno's staff — a small band of men who worked thousands of long days in close quarters — could have remained oblivious to the sordid matters regarding Sandusky.
Maybe some did. But we have to wait for all the facts to emerge, if they ever do.
That's the point. Until all the truth is known, anyone who coached at Penn State under Paterno should not be coaching there now.
Imagine the firestorm had Bradley been retained as an assistant or, worse, tabbed as Paterno's successor.
When he was named interim head coach, Bradley denied previous knowledge of the multiple accusations against Sandusky and of the 1998 investigation. He might have known something, though. Earlier this week, Victim 4 testified that Bradley once happened upon him showering with Sandusky and stayed to monitor the situation.
“I think he was suspicious,” Victim 4 said of Bradley.
The possibility that such assertions would emerge likely is why Bradley could not land another job after O'Brien let him go — although, amazingly, Bradley and Johnson were granted interviews for the chance to succeed Paterno.
So many Penn State heads are stuck in the sand that it's hard to keep track.
Vanderlinden and Johnson have insisted they were blindsided by the grand jury report released in November. The key piece of testimony was McQueary saying he saw Sandusky abusing a boy in the football building showers in 2002 (since adjusted to 2001).
“We're fathers,” Vanderlinden told ABC News in November, referring to himself and colleagues. “We could not have lived with ourselves for nine years having known something like that.”
Johnson told ABC News, “I was shocked like everyone else when I read (the grand jury report).”
You may choose to believe that these men knew nothing, and saw nothing, in their combined 27 years on campus. And you might be proved correct. All of the allegations have not been heard. All of the facts have not come forth.
That's the point.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Steelers rookie safety Thomas learning from Polamalu, Clark
- Elizabeth Township officials seek property to store road materials
- White Oak amends dog ordinance
- Pirates notebook: Mercer now the top option at shortstop
- Pilot of ultralight plane killed in crash
- Unchecked looting guts Egypt’s heritage, with one ancient site ‘70 percent gone’
- First-rounder McGuire expected to sign with Pirates on Tuesday
- Police: Beating victim, son forged prescriptions
- Steelers defensive lineman Keisel hosts kids for day of fishing
- Reds hit 4 solo homers, defeat Pirates, 4-1
- Heroin cited in gun thefts
You must be signed in to add comments
To comment, click the Sign in or sign up at the very top of this page.
Starkey is making ASSUMPTIONS & you know what they say about that. Why stop at the assisatants. His colleague @ 93.7 the fan Paul Alexander went to PSU, spoke at 2nd Mile functions & covered JS longer than Vandy worked with JS. Starkey is as sick as the officials who allegedly covered this tragedy up. He is exploiting the tragedy & spinning information to get his 15 minutes of fame. SHAMEFUL
Submitted by: Liz on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Following this argument then: How long have you been working for the Trib and The Fan? Surely between the numerous coworkers and employers at both these locations, many people have on their personal record either an illegal or unethical act. Since you've known these people for some amount of time, it is safe to assume you must at least know something about these act especially if they were committed or planned on Trib or The Fan property. Thus, until it can be proven what you knew and when you knew of it of the myriad of probable misgivings committed by your co-workers, we should hold you accountable and the Trib/Fan should suspend your work till you are proven innocent.
Submitted by: Panda on Thursday, June 14, 2012
For those of you not in the Pittsburgh area, this is why 93.7 "The Fan" is unlistenable.
Submitted by: Nancy on Thursday, June 14, 2012
O'Brien should have kept more of Paterno's talented coaching staff. Your logic-or should I say illogic--is as evil as Sandusky.
Submitted by: Chris on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Joe, Under these grounds are we to assume that the following individuals should be removed from coaching? - Al Golden - Greg Schiano - Brian Norwood I think that you may have misread the testimony as it is listed as FACT ( the victim testified to this! ) that no coach saw anything sexual whatsoever. It is all too easy for us to sit and play "armchair quarterback" and offer conjecture about the moral fiber of men who I doubt you have ever met personally. Sexual predators are just that, predators. A trait in child molesters is their ability to conceal their behavior. As another commentator illustrated, you have made a massive leap in judgement based off of what? The fact that one of the victims believed Bradley was suspicious? Who is to say he was suspicious? If we are moving on these grounds, then we may as well bring down the entire athletic department. As surely anyone affiliated with it MUST have known that their was a terrible wrongdoing happening. Based on your logic, and I hope others will read this, that in the event of a catastrophic incident ANYWHERE, anyone closely related to an event MUST be guilty purely by their involvement or relative proximity to the event. Let's take down the secretary, Sue Paterno, all spouses of everyone in the athletic department, neighbor's of Jerry...the list could go on and on. On these grounds, if anything poor happens at your news department you should know about it! Do not husband's cheat on their wives for years and have no inkling of it? People do have a way of hiding things. I sincerely disagree with this, and believe the coaching staff to be tremendous men who have been caught in a firestorm that they are wholly undeserving of. There is a reason that those men have not been called to trial, and unless they do I encourage to you to not drag their name's through the mud. Consider this the last Tribune I purchase. Poor journalism.
Submitted by: Michael on Thursday, June 14, 2012
It amazes me how many PSU fans continue to bury their heads in the sand and defend the football program. Take Penn State's name out, and put in any other major university, would you blame the media, Pitt fans, and everyone else who dare think all these coaches might have known about this all along (is it really that much of a reach, or any reach at all)? Would you be so quick to believe that Vanderlien and Johnson knew nothing if this happened at Ohio State and they were coaching there? The only thing wrong with this article is that is what not written 5 months ago when O'Brien kept them on staff.
Submitted by: TheTruth on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Rusty, I don't think it's a Pitt vs. Penn State issue because this situation transcends the pettiness of on-field rivalries. Rather, as you alluded to, Starkey unwittingly represents a microcosm of modern media, which is a power-abusing subculture dedicated to wringing every droplet of profitability from a situation. Sensationalizing a minor point is just one form of piling on an easy target. They comprise a story's narrative for the convenience of shaping opinion, and almost always ask the same pseudo-intellectual query "who knew what and when" in an effort to spark emotion instead of analysis. Worst of all, as demonstrated by its coverage of Tiger Woods in 2009 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2010, the media have become self-appointed arbiters of morality. They are simply not qualified to do so. The "heads in the sand" analogy in this story is ironically misdirected.
Submitted by: Scott on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Another 2nd rate article by Starkey. Perhaps PSU should also get rid of the anyone that has been employed by the school since Sandusky was hired. Grounds keepers, Librarians, professors... Hey maybe just get rid of the entire student body and start all over again! You never know who knew about it and who helped cover it up. Did someone actually pay you to write this garbage?
Submitted by: Mark on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Rusty: I disagree. Really what would this have to do with being a "fan" of any program? Starkey does not seem to be "reaching" at all to me. This is a common sense article based on the fact that there are many new college coaches across the country who will bring in new staffs, even when NOT DEALING WITH A MAJOR PROBLEM SUCH AS THIS ONE. And the key lines in the article to me are "If any freshly hired coach in the history of football needed to make a clean break from the standing regime, O’Brien was the one. He shouldn’t have had a choice..." and "Until all the truth is known, anyone who coached at Penn State under Paterno should not be coaching there now." This has already gone beyond the scope of the football program - the Univ. Pres. was asked to walk the plank. It should at least extend to anyone who "worked" directly with Sandusky during that time.
Submitted by: Don on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Wow, do you live in a cave? Do you realize that O'Brien kept retained these two several months ago? I assume you are basing this hack story on the fact that Bradley apparently saw Sandusky showering with a boy. Maybe, just maybe, the coaches that expressed a desire to stay were fully vetted. Do you honestly think that O'Brien, upon taking his first head coaching job under this kind of microscope, would take a huge gamble by retaining two assistants for the mere purpose of recruiting? You honestly cant be that ignorant. But hey, write the story and get a few reads and worry about the facts later.
Submitted by: Joe on Thursday, June 14, 2012
I could not disagree more with your contention. There is absolutely no indication that Larry Johnson or Ron Vanderlinden knew anything about the alleged Sandusky crimes. Vanderlinden was not even on staff when Sandusky retired. These men have sterling reputations. Coaching is their job. They have families to support and bills to pay. To punish the innocent for the acts of others is a terrible misjustice. We sometimes lose the ability to consider the facts rationally when offenses against children are at issue. Your position is analogous to that of some who suggest that PSU football be eliminated for a period of years and that the innocent players currently on the team suffer for what allegedly happened in 2001. If Sandusky had been a retired math professor who was seen by an employee of the math department in a closed classroom engaging in the same conduct that McQueary allegedly witnessed, no rational person would suggest that PSU stop teaching math for a period of years and that every member of the PSU math department be fired. Punish the guilty. Protect the innocent. This is not a difficult concept to comprehend.
Submitted by: mike on Thursday, June 14, 2012
I agree with Rusty. And let me also say I am a Starkey fan. But this article is typical media BS regarding this situation. Neither Johnson or Vanderlindin have EVER been mentioned in any sentence with regards to this situation. At some point people need to get over the bashing of all that is Penn State and focus on nailing Sandusky for what he did. Those who committed crimes or were in the wrong should pay and pay dearly but the continued attempts to smear the entire university and anyone around it is getting absolutely ridiculous. I am not saying move on as in sweep it under the rugs but I do think it is time to lay off the Penn State witch hunt!
Submitted by: joel on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Rusty, you sound like the average sheep from penn state. What would or joe say when one of them was your child???? Taking a child on a plae to a game while the rest of the coaching staff had their wifes along and no red flags??? And nobody knew ??? !!! or wanted to know !!
Submitted by: T on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Thanks for the morning laugh. Might as well tear down Lasch Building because since stuff happened in there, the building now knows. Might as well cancel the Pitt football program. I mean they played Penn State while Sandusky was there. What did Pitt now and how? Oh, and way to be on top of this story. I mean it's only been what, six months since the coaching staff was assembled?
Submitted by: Lee on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Sorry Joe, but you're taking a huge leap here. If retaining 2 assistants is questionable because they might have known something, then where does it end? Surely everyone in the Athletic Director's office should've been dismissed by Penn State, because they might've known something. Or everyone in the University President's office as well, as they possibly heard a rumor and didn't report it, right? Since there's a chance a professor could've overheard someone talking about it, should any professor or assistant be retained. Where does it end? Janitors, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff? Sorry Joe, on this topic, you're wrong.
Submitted by: RJ on Thursday, June 14, 2012
Please spare us. If you've paid any attention, this conspiracy you writers are looking for doesn't exist. The people who were involved are now tied up in the case. Time to leave Penn State alone. Please remove your Pitt IV and get real. Really Trib, are you going to allow rivalry to get in the way of proper reporting?
Submitted by: alan on Thursday, June 14, 2012
It's not unreasonable to feel that any of the prior staff should have been retained. Personally, I would think that all the coaches had to have heard rumblings over the years but continued to focus on their jobs. It seems that Jerry Sandusky did his work after hours & that being caught in the act by Mike McQueary (if you believe him & I do) was unusual. One thing I'll say as a PSU alum is that my only regret of Joe Paterno being fired was that it took too long to accomplish. Assuming these allegations are true (and I believe that they are) Joe Paterno's statement of not having done enough was spot-on & he got what he deserved. And I fully agree with the premise that a lot of these guys had their head in the sand to some degree.
Submitted by: Rusty on Thursday, June 14, 2012
@Starkey are you a Pitt fan posing as a PSU beat writer?? Just asking....because basing an entire article on keeping 2 asst. coaches on staff out of how many??? Reaching dude. It is bad enough that the national media needed to use Joe Pa as the scape goat for their big $$ story. Now you just seem like the johhnny come lately cleaning up what little slpash you can get w/ a healine or 2. Aren't you better than that???